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How to Give Without Being Taken Part 1

by Luann Udell on 6/24/2010 10:30:56 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

Whatever the realities of our artistic lives, one thing’s a given:  The rest of the world sees us as people who do the work we love.

And because we’re doing the work we love, money isn’t really important. 

Wait for it……

Bwah ha ha hahaha!

Seriously, folks, whatever your thoughts on art and money, most artists like to believe their work has value.  And many of us are thrilled when others value our work, too.  Especially when they value it enough to actually buy it.

Which is why it gets tricky when people ask us to donate our work.

People ask musicians to perform at street fairs “for the exposure.”  Artists are asked to donate their work “for a good cause.”  Or we’re asked for a discount because they’re a non-profit.  We do a show and we’re asked to donate something for a silent auction or raffle.

We all have snappy answers for requests like these.  Jack White of ArtCalender says, “Artists die from too much ‘exposure!’”  When I’m told I should donate because “it’s for a good cause”, I want to snap, “It’s not my cause”.  When event organizers protest my price because they’re a non-profit, I think, “Well, I’m not!”

Most people really don’t know what they’re asking.  They aren’t looking to annoy you, they honestly think you’ll be happy for the exposure.  They think you’re just as enthusiastic about their cause as they are.  Snappy answers and sarcasm aren’t just unprofessional, they can be hurtful to people who didn’t mean you any insult. 

Such a come-back can close doors, especially in a small or tightly-knit community.  You may need to ask them for a favor someday!

Maybe the cause really is one you believe in and support.  Cash donations are a tax write-off, where currently the cash value of your donated artwork isn’t. You’d be surprised how many fund raisers don’t know this.  Even so, sometimes I’d still rather donate artwork than cash because of the audience, the event, or the potential for great publicity.

Here are some suggestions for how to handle those constant requests.

KNOW THE VALUE OF WHAT YOU’RE GIVING.  If the donation does not net you good publicity or new customers, will it still be worth it to you?  I once donated a nice little wall hanging, valued at over $500 which sold at a prestigious fundraiser in Boston for….$50.  The event organizers refused to share the purchaser’s information with me, “so artists wouldn’t bug them.”  To heap insult on injury, the couple that bought it came to my booth one year at a show—not to add to their collection, but to brag to me how cheaply they’d gotten it.  “We couldn’t believe it when nobody else bid on it!” they exclaimed for everyone in my booth to hear.  They were so thrilled at their good fortune.  I was….humiliated.  I know they liked it.  I also know that whenever they tell the story about my artwork to their friends, the tag line will forever be, “And we got it for only $50!”

Not only did I give away that piece…  Not only did I give away the income I could have earned from its sale…. I gave away the opportunity to sell it to someone who would have been thrilled and honored to own it.  Perhaps someone who would have said, “It was expensive, but it was worth every penny.”


Always include an invoice showing the full retail value of the piece.  Rather than give a piece outright, offer to sell it to them at your consignment price or wholesale price.  They can then keep any profit over that, and you will still be paid your price.  I’ve suggested this to fundraiser organizers, and they’ve actually thanked me afterwards.  Many people really DO want to help artists, and this arrangement meant more artists were willing to participate.

Suggest a minimum bid.  Make sure the auctioneer/program etc. mentions what the retail value of the piece is.  (“Wall hanging by nationally-exhibited artist Luann Udell, retail value $600, minimum bid $350”)  That way, nobody can think of your work as “free”, but as something of value.  The organizers will realize this is sale money you could have deposited into your checking account, too.

BE PRESENT AT ANY PRESENTATIONS, RECEPTIONS, ETC.  Use this opportunity to meet prospective buyers and grow your audience.  If you can’t be there in person, supply them with an artist statement, post cards, business cards and other marketing materials.  Offer extras, in case other attendees are interested in your work.

USE THIS AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PUBLICITY Take photos of your work at the event, and have people take your picture with your work.  If your work sells, include the proud new owners.  If the event organizers are doing publicity, offer your images.  If not, do your own press release of the event.


Part 2: The perfect way to handle requests to donate your work!

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Backstory: About Clint. Email EditorTwitter. Republish. ]

Related Posts:

Practicing Quiet Confidence

Fund Raisers That Do It Right

Maybe You Should Raise Your Prices

Responding to Discount Requests

Topics: art marketing

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Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors
This is extremely timely for me, as I have just gotten in another request. Fortunately those who I have donated artwork to in the past have all been very appreciative. I like your idea about the invoice, and I will use it.

Jeannie Vodden
Thanks Luann.
This has been a difficult issue for me as well. I'm a struggling artist, financially surviving, but many months are very difficult. When I was first asked to donate my artwork, I was thrilled, but then as years have passed, it has become more and more difficult. I want to donate my best work, but it has the best potential of selling to someone who will pay top dollar. And I'd love to get my work in front of people who have not yet seen what I do... so it becomes a difficult balance.
I have for three years been donating to a cause I care about and find that I completely enjoy the time I put into creating for this cause, so it has huge value to me as well as others.

Jill Banks
All of your comments are helpful and right on target. The couple in your booth story made me cringe right along with you. Yikes!

Fundraising organizers need to get a better idea of what they're asking ... and that will come about when artists are educated themselves.

My art is my business and I want to do right by my collectors by protecting its value.

Phyllis O'Shields Fine Art
Excellent information on donation of art works. I only donate (and provide an invoice for establishing value) to causes that have well established patrons who are directly involved in the jaunre that I paint. Other donations to a general public audience just do not translate into business for me. I also with good results have offered my work at a consignment price, once again to a patron audience who has some affinity to my work. (tropical seascapes) By being exposed with participation in enough of these events I avoid having non profit groups use the guilt approach with me about giving. Aloha!

Clint Watson
Jill: "My art is my business and I want to do right by my collectors by protecting its value." - that's a perfect way to express it.

Helen Horn Musser
Luann, What goes around comes around; those people will get theirs someday. Was very rude! All your points hit home and are important when an artists is asked for donated art. My art alliance in the NorthEast Texas will be doing an art auction with the Terrell Heritage Museum that will benefit the Museum. They will provide us with a home to meet in for our 2011 year. All members will be asked to donate a piece of art. All of the details haven't been worked out yet but, I do believe our Alliance will benefit from the museum as well. It is a win, win for everyone.

tom weinkle
this is a great post Luann. You touched on all the issues.

When I hear or see someone who boasts about the great deal, I always think about what a disservice they have done to not only the artist, but to the charity they also claim to support.

They often have no idea of the irony of their words. And they often poison the water for the charity, because other artists hear about it.

I can only wonder about the value of all the art and the money it has raised for charities. It's a case for better branding of change the perceptions of the public. I've rarely read an obit for an artist that properly recognized the credit they deserved for supporting causes.

Your suggestions are very valuable. Thanks

Carol Schmauder
Luann, you make some wonderful points in your article. I believe a lot of organizers of fundraisers don't know the value of your work unless you tell them. The idea of giving them an invoice of full retail value is an excellent one. I also think it is a great idea to be present at the fundraiser. I have never done this but will in the future.

What a terrible experience to have that couple visit your booth and make such a proclamation. That is quite rude.

Jill Banks
Thanks, Clint. I believe that fair, consistent business practices are an important part of delivering a high quality art product. Every time I sell one of my pieces, I know that it's a win-win for the collector and me, in part because the price paid is fair compensation for the hard work, training, high quality (and expensive) materials used, acquired skills, thought, etc. that I put into it. The relationship works. Beware of the art-bargain-shopping-charity-auction buyers.

Nancy Pingree Hoover
Wow, Luann, did you ever bring back memories!

I once donated a gift certificate for a custom pet portrait to a Chamber of Commerce auction. It was a paying audience that was there and they all had money to spare so I thought it would be a good way to get exposure. I was new in the area and hoped a few commissions would come out of it. I gave the CoC an example portrait to show everyone, gave them the particulars on the portrait, size, value, medium, etc. I really thought that of all people surely these would understand and appreciate the value of a custom portrait. Was I ever wrong! The gift certificate sold for $75.00 (I beat you by $25.00!), while the value of the portrait was over $300. Turned out the woman who purchased it had a Bischon-Friese! Thankfully she turned out to be a very nice lady. And I never did get any commissions out of it either. Learned my lesson and have not donated to that cause since.

I get asked all the time to donate paintings of animals for fund raisers because I do animal portraits (along with other subject matter). I have my own fund raiser going on for my local shelter though, called "faces of Love" and cannot afford to donate even more paintings for yet another shelter I know nothing about, so I politely turn them down and yet always feel bad about it.

I'll be looking forward to the next installment to this article on how to handle requests for donated art! Great article Luann!!


Claudia L Brookes
Everything you have said is true, and I can add that I have OFTEN been asked to donate artwork for a fundraiser, and then have received an invitation to pay full price to attend that expensive and tony event, which of course, I do not do. I doubt if this is uncommon. I suppose I could say when asked for a donation, "And when is this event? Let me put that on my calendar. I would love to come, so you will be able to get me a pass, won't you?" I do like the idea of an invoice for setting value, and I have used the minimum bid idea. I always make it clear to the fundraiser that I get "0" from my donation, but this doesn't necessarily get passed on to anyone else. I usually can't even claim materials, because I am on cost basis accounting, and probably already claimed the frame and matting last year!

Maria Brophy
Great article. I only wish that more artists would encourage fundraisers to share in the proceeds from the sale of the art. This is so important for the fundraiser to get the best art possible, and to make it easier for artists to give their best work.

Lori Woodward wrote an article about this topic here on this very blog:

We get about 5-10 requests WEEKLY for donations! We give to the ones that share in the revenue. That way, we get our expenses covered, and we are giving our absolute best work, which benefits the fundraiser and doesn't devalue the artist.

The last 2 fundraisers we gave to paid us $500 and $750 for the paintings, both valued at over $3,000. Both fundraisers raised the value, which was good for them, and for us, we felt good about giving but also we got something small in return to cover our costs.

Inspired by Lori's article, I wrote my own spin on this topic as well:

Giving to a fundraiser can benefit everyone, but artists shouldn't go broke doing it. Thanks for bringing up this very important topic once again!

Nancy Cupp
Thank you so much for the timely information. I have had that problem also being self employed. I don't like to pass down an opportunity to advertise, but, I don't really think anyone knows the value of my art or appreciate its, by giving it away. Without a price tag, it's value is very ambiguous. Putting it's price on it is a very good idea, so they will have some idea what the market value of it is, or at least what the artist normally sells their work for.

I've heard it said that beginning artists don't price their work high enough, and therefore don't get the respect of their art as a thing of value. When they start raising their prices, they start getting more sales. What do you think?

Marilyn Gilis
Thanks, very good points about donating art. Setting a value and minimum bid is an excellent idea. It's amazing ow many people think art should be free!

Marian Fortunati
All good information Luanne...
I recently was honored to participate in a fund raiser that used one of your suggestions. It was great because when my work sold, I made some money and at the same time I felt I was contributing the the very worthwhile "Cause"... a Hospital Burn Center. Additionally clients' names and addresses were provided to the artists who wanted to write thank yous.

I think events like this are really win-win-win... the artist, the charity and the client all feel they have contributed and have gained something.

I agree with all your points, it is hard though to donate when things have not been appreciated in the past. It is a great way to get your name out there but again, wonder if anyone really paid any attention.

Donna Robillard
This article was informative. I think an artist does need to be selective in which charity he/she donates to; otherwise I don't believe people outside the art community think you value your own work.

Sue Martin
I really appreciate these suggestions. Luann. I donated to several causes last year but, realizing no gain, I haven't done it this year. Your advice gives me some ideas for being more business-like about it.

Max Hulse
You have expounded on a subject that all of
us have had to deal with on occasion. I
get asked about once a month to contribute a
piece of are "for the good cause".

I often do this and consider it advertising
and justify it that way. I have the recipient
sign an agreement that if the piece does not
bring the reserve price, the art is returned to
me. (This is usually 65 percent of retail.) This
prevents the $50 dollar (or 10 percent of retail)
fiasco you describe.
Max Hulse

Kathy Chin
Thank you very much Luann for the informative article, it's a subject I haven't had to deal with yet except on a very small basis. But now with your article as well as the great responses, I'll be much better prepared to respond.

Joanne Benson
Hi Luann,
Excellent post! My first donated piece went for $30 so I know where you are coming from. It was a church fundraiser! However, the person who purchased that painting also purchased 3 commissions from me over the years at my regular price. So in the long run it did work out.

Getting off topic a bit, I participated in a one night show tonight held in conjunction with a railroad convention. The show featured RR related paintings. One of the convention people offered my friend 20 percent less for her painting. She is a very well known local artist and she makes her living from her art. She refused and said she never reduces her prices only raises them. Some people are really clueless about what goes into the artwork and all the related expenses! And the painting was a bargain for that artist's work! And so it is the same for people bidding at these fund raisers!

Thanks for all of your insights. Looking forward to part II.

Helen Horn Musser
Max, Your benevolent heart is showing and I tend to agree with you on giving to good causes. Recently, I have been donating prints instead of original art and those recieving the art are still quite pleased with the work they recieve. I always give a selling price.

Robin Baratta
-a bit off topic-
Charities aren't the only one's who think art is something you just do for fun. I recently went to a provincially run small business help center, for marketing advise. I was told that the center is for businesses, not for hobbyists. Art and artists are excluded from help and resources, as they don't meet provincial guidelines . Nothing I said made a difference, I'm still steamed. That's MY tax dollars they work with!

Helen Horn Musser
That's terrible; I hope you reported it to someone higher up than who ever you talked to. You can do this; don't ever give up Robin.

Crystal Rassi
About the value of art:

I recently entered an adjudication show and during the critique was given the advice that artists are professionals. Not everyone can produce art. Just as not everyone can be a plumber. If everyone was a plumber, who would be the electrician, or janitor, or cabinet maker?

Artists have a specific function that needs to be recognized. Artist run centers like CARFAC can help artists market themselves and their art to make a living. Not all entrepreneurs (in any profession) will be successful, but if one has the confidence and the strategy, we can promote ourselves as more than "hobbyists".

Helen Horn Musser
Crystol, Your comment about all people cannot produce art is right on! I have had too many say as they admire my work that they have tried and could not do it; so take heart Artists, we are unique.

Is it common practice when donating say 'to a museum' that you sign a contract saying,

"I do hereby irrevocably and unconditionally give and transfer to the museum all right, title, and interest, including all copyright,trademark, and related interests, in and to the following described work of art." ????

Should one sign everything over when donating?

Michael Cardosa
Hi Luann,

Thanks for another good article. I know a number of artists that are asked to donate all the time. They could make a career of donating paintings and then truly being starving artists.

One of the things I've seen suggested which works out well for all parties is set a reserve price for the work and collect the reserve. At THAT point you can make a cash donation to the group if you really believe in their cause and you'll have more of a write off than the cost of your supplies. Besides everyone getting something out of a transaction like that, setting the reserve will probably bring the group more money and more visibility than a low ball sale or auction ever would.


Sharon Weaver
Good discussion. Lots of great responses and narratives.

Crystal Rassi
Dear Trish,

I do not find it common practice for the artist to sign a contract to that effect for any corporation. Contracts can be refused and/or revised to meet your expectations as well. In fact, I have recently learned of some typical contracts that artists should be getting the "buyer" to sign which is to the effect that the copyright remains with the artist and any reproductions or transformations of the peice without concent is against the law.

I would strongly suggest not signing away your ideas. I would refuse a contract like that in a second simply because my work and my thoughts should not be manipulated to suit anyone elses needs. Also, íf a public gallery is showing you work (not for the sole purpose of making money), then the gallery, by law (In Canada) has to pay the artist a fee. So before taking on any contracts, research the rights of artist and copyright laws in your area. As mentioned in another post, CARFAC canada is a great place to start.

Good Luck!
Crystal Rassi.

There's always the odd exception to the rule that those who want you to donate don't ever want to buy: I offered to donate a piece outright to a local, very small non-profit, to just give it to them when they held their next fundraiser. A few months later I got a call from one of the organizers who wanted to visit my studio and buy some work for herself. She ended up buying 3 pieces from me on that one visit.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
Well, Kim,
thanks for telling us. It's nice to know that it works sometimes!

Claudia Cohen
This one was right on target. I like to give, but often these things have minimal success. I donate only to things i believe in, and that include the artists in the event. However, as they rarely seem to work well, I am less inclined these days to participate for most of the requests I get.
I do have my favorites though...

Michael Cardosa

That's a great story. You never know where or when a collector is going to show up! Glad it worked out for you after being so generous!


I was just asked to edit a call to artists to donate art work for a charity auction where there was a $25 entry fee for the artwork. Needless to say I declined the offer.

Michael Cardosa
Hi Joy,

So this is interesting. Did I read this correctly, you have to pay a fee for the privilege of donating your art? They must have gotten that idea after hearing about the Bernie Madoff auction this weekend...


LOL! Yes, you read correctly. Asking artists to pay for the privilege of being taken advantage of. Here is my full reply.

Personally, I don”™t like asking artists for donations. It seems like a nice proposition. The artists get exposure, the charity gets money, and the organization gets recognition. However, in fact, what really happens is the artists get taken advantage of, the charity gets you to foot the bill for their fundraiser and pockets a little money, and the organization looses valuable potential clients. How is this so?

By creating a venue whereby art is donated by the artists and sold at auction where it generally sells for 25 ”“ 50 percent of value to people who would otherwise be potential customers, the charity gets a little money, the artists are getting taken advantage of because the organization unwittingly creates a situation where there is no incentive for buyers to ever purchase art from the organization at full value when they know they can wait for an auction and get it at drastically reduced prices. The only one winning here is the buyer. We already have one arts organization in town that gives our art away. Arts organizations should benefit the artists, the organization, and the general public.

There are other ways to raise money for charity.

1. Don”™t hold an auction. Set the prices during the show period at full price. Take your 30 percent commission and give a portion of that to the charity.

2. Sell the prices at full value and ask the artists to donate back a percentage of the sale, and then give the them a tax deductible charitable contribution receipt for that amount.

3. Ask for donations from the community, trips, art supplies, etc, and auction those off along with art classes, at your artists reception, while letting potential buyers know that when one of the paintings on display sells for full price that a percentage of that amount goes to the charity too.

There are lots of other ways, and I am sure if you did an internet search on creative ways to hold a charity auction where the artists and the organization actually come out ahead.

I am happy to help with editing your print materials, but I do not want to be involved in any way that takes advantage of the good nature of artists. They are the poorest demographic of your constituency, and the ones in most need of help. I recommend starting a program that promotes art and artists. How about starting a corporate art program?

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
I really like the letter you wrote, Joy!
It's so hard because a lot of the poor artists of whom you speak feel fervently for these causes.. but they're usually the least able to afford such generous giving..

I agree with you. But the whole process is actually counter intuitive, which is why so many of us fall for it. You don't really build a recognition and a potential client base for your art as is usually promised. You build a client base for your art at auction. Really, think about it, why would you buy art at full price when you can get it at auction for practically nothing. We as artists are partially to blame because we endorse the process by dontating to and purchasing art from our contemporaries at auctions. It won't be until artists take a stand and demand a different, more equitable form of fundraiser/auction that we will start seeing benefits in our bank accounts.

Hele Horn Musser
I will always give prints for auction unless it is a very special case. There is a time and place for original art.

Michael Cardosa

I think you did a great job explaining and recommending some alternatives to them. I think my reactions would have been... "Are you nuts?!!"



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